The title of my blog “searching for an afflated orgasm of the heart” comes from the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest. It has taken me many, many months to finish this novel, but it was worth it. There is genius on every single page.

There is comedy; there is tragedy. There is knowledge, precision. Not only can DFW craft a perfect sentence, his wealth of knowledge on multiple subjects is amazing. And as much as I enjoyed reading about tennis and wheelchair assassins, it is his writing on depression and isolation that really floors me.

The first chapter of Infinite Jest is actually the last. “Year of Glad” is, to me, by far the most brilliant and telling chapter.  This is the one chapter in the book which I have read & reread.  “Year of Glad” introduces us to Hal as he is at the end of the novel:  inside he believes he is perfectly normal and sane; on the outside, those around him cannot understand his words, nor can they decipher his behavior.  “I am in here”  he keeps saying to them; they only react with horror.  Hal is very much isolated in his own mind.  His ability to communicate has all but disappeared.

I am in here. I can’t say how many times I’ve thought that to myself.  Trying to communicate what’s in your head to someone who can’t understand you is frustrating, and a bit scary.  We never really know what has happened to Hal;  the only clue is a clump of mold he ate as a child.

Every character in Infinite Jest has some sort of flaw, be it visible or of the character type.  But it’s the fun that DFW makes of us as humans that’s the real joke:  our addictions and our shallowness.  Our love of acronyms and of money.  The absolute ridiculousness of the things we deem as “entertainment.”

DFW’s powers of description came through best when describing certain emotional states; he was able to describe depression and anxiety in a way that only those who have suffered through them can.  He knows, among a gazillion other things, what these things feel and look like and how they are treated.  There are at least 4 suicides in the novel, one being a main character that we never see, as he has already suicided before the novel begins.  He knows all about AA and related programs.  He even added a few groups for those with deformities, U.H.I.D. for example.  We do love a good exclusive group, don’t we?

This is not a short read, nor is it always an easy one.  There are multiple story lines, all meeting at some point; there are extensive footnotes, totaling nearly 100 pages.  There are words you will have to look up; there are tennis facts you will have to take at his word.  But you will read every sentence with joy, and wish to god DFW was still around and still writing.

 

 

PS:  here is my review on Powell’s Daily Dose:  http://www.powells.com/Comments/View/Jennifer%20Hensley

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